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Vacation homes and county land use policy

By Scott Tibbs, March 14, 2008

As a philosophical libertarian, I believe people should generally be allowed to do what they wish with their property, provided they do not harm anyone else. I also believe that the rule of law should apply to everyone equally, and that (while there may be very specific cases where exceptions can be made) no one should be granted an exception to the law. These principles are important in thinking about county government's land use policy regarding vacation homes. (See Herald-Times articles from January 5, 2008, January 28, 2008, January 30, 2008, March 3, 2008 and March 7, 2008.)

County government alleges that Peter and Suzanne Sharp (owners of Back to Nature Cabins) originally claimed that the vacation homes would be used as single-family residences. County Assessor Judy Sharp raised concerns about them being used as commercial properties, which would be assessed differently and pay more in property taxes. Obviously, the first order of business should be for the property owner to pay the same taxes as any other business, regardless of how the land use policy is decided. If it is legally possible to collect the difference for what the Sharps would have paid had the property been classified correctly from the beginning, that option should be pursued.

What should the county do about these homes? There is clearly a market for vacation homes, especially around Lake Monroe, and the homes present an opportunity to boost the local economy. Because of this, county government needs to come up with some sort of plan to allow vacation homes to operate in the county. Would a single-family rental property with a one-year lease be allowed under current county zoning rules? If so, could vacation homes be classified as a subset of this type of use?

It is reasonable for neighbors to have concerns, but it seems most of the opposition to the vacation homes is bad behavior on the part of the tenants. Unfortunately, that is a potential problem whether the homes are leased on a short-term basis to people on vacation, to someone seeking a long-term rental, or to someone purchasing a home. Bad neighbors are not exclusive to rentals. One vacation home may not be a problem at all, while another could be a headache. The answer, in my opinion, is to hold landowners accountable for the behavior of people staying in the rentals and revoke the right to rent the property in the case of egregious and repeated violations.